Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition that impacts every facet of a person’s life. Depending on the severity of the condition, it may impact the way people interact with others, how they manage stress, and how they engage with the world around them, including work, school, and relationships. When untreated, ADHD can be difficult to mask or manage. For some, one way to “deal with” the symptoms they have is to turn to alcohol or drugs. Yet, this typically leads to the development of addiction, putting a person in a situation that’s even more challenging to overcome. There is help for ADHD and addiction.
What Is ADHD?
A person with ADHD typically has had symptoms of their disorder since childhood though it may become more obvious in some who are older. These symptoms can continue into adulthood. They may lead to difficulty with relationships, low self-esteem, and difficulty at maintaining a job or completing tasks in school. Some of the most common symptoms of ADHD include:
- Aggression that comes out of nowhere
- Difficulty focusing and problems paying attention
- Lack of restraint and impulsivity
- Fidgeting and hyperactivity
Some people may benefit from treatment for ADHD. Yet, many do not receive that treatment, especially initially. That can lead to numerous complications over time.
How Does ADHD and Substance Use Disorder Occur, Then?
It’s important to note that ADHD is not something that just kids have. It may be very much present in teens and young adults. Also, many people with ADHD are not full of energy, and “hyper” is another common misconception of this condition. Yet, they may be at risk for all of the complications that typically come from this condition.
As noted by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, persistent ADHD that lacks treatment can lead to alcohol use disorder or other substance abuse. This occurs for various reasons but often is due specifically to a person’s need to manage their symptoms.
For example, for those who have a raising mind and an inability to focus on tasks at work or school, the use of alcohol may offer some improvement. It’s short-lived and typically doesn’t provide full coverage of the symptoms they face. Yet, during that time that it does work, a person may be able to focus more or find themselves better able to cope with what’s happening around them. That’s the type of support that many people need.
Why does it help? Consider ADHD and alcohol, for example. A person with ADHD feels as though they are unable to focus and control their thoughts. Alcohol works as a type of sedative for the central nervous system, slowing down its function somewhat. As that happens, some of those symptoms may dissipate or at least improve.
The problem is, though, that this only lasts for a short amount of time. As it stops working, a person may want to drink more or in larger amounts to get the same effects. This type of consistent use typically leads to addiction and drug-seeking behavior, worsening outcomes. It can also lead to dependence in some people.
Are ADHD Medications Addictive?
It is possible for people to develop an addiction to the medications they are given for ADHD treatment. Medications like Adderall and Ritalin are not likely to cause addiction in a person who is using them for ADHD diagnosis and treatment especially if they are using them as prescribed by their doctors. They carry a very low risk for addiction in this situation.
However, if a person who does not have ADHD takes medications like these, addiction is more likely to occur. In these situations, they may be trying to get high or to stay awake for longer periods of time so that they can focus on work or school. This is one of the more common reasons people develop an addiction to ADHD medications.
How Are ADHD and Addiction Treated?
The most effective treatment option is called co-occurring treatment. It is a manner of treatment that involves treating both the mental health disorder and the addiction at the same time. Doing so can prove to be very valuable because it can provide the best level of overall support for both conditions. Treatment of just one condition without addressing the other sets a person up for failure.
Co-occurring treatment typically focuses on balancing the mental health needs of an individual as a first step. This may be done with therapy as well as medications. It may take some time to find the right balance of medications to provide the best level of support. Then, treatment for addiction, whether through medication-assisted treatment and therapy or just therapy, can help a person to gain control over their addiction and dependence. For many people, this improves their quality of life significantly, creating a better ability to engage with life around them without ADHD symptoms lingering.
If you or a loved one is struggling with ADHD and addiction, reach out to our team for help.